"Oh, There's No Place Like Home For The Holidays..."

We knew when we moved to Minnesota that one thing we would have to put up with was snow and the occasional snow storm. We also knew that we were going to love being so close to my parents as a drive to Iowa was no big deal, a mere 3 hours away. So imagine our dilemna last Sunday, when we planned to drive to Iowa and all of the sudden we were hit with a pretty good snowstorm. We didn't think it would be a big deal and the radar kept showing improved conditions in Iowa, so we jumped in the car after church, with my sister and brother-in-law, and we headed south, anxious to get "home for Christmas." By the absolute grace of God, we made it but not without some major stress and patience. Our normal 3 hour drive turned into 6 hours due to the horrible driving conditions. It was snowing pretty heavily and the wind was blowing very hard which makes for very icy roads. We managed to avoid an accident but we passed more than 30! About 15 of those resulted in cars flipped over in the median or at the bottom of was very scary. We were going about 30mph most of the time, so we avoided much of the trouble, but there were several times when the visibility was so low, 10 feet or less, and we could see nothing but white. Praise the Lord for keeping us safe and getting us home. By the time we got there, we were so stressed and tired and giddy from being couped up in a car for 6 hours with too much luggage and too many presents! We laughed our heads off most of the way and I laughed so hard I developed a killer case of the hiccups! Oh, the memories! Anyway, we made it!!

December Reflections

This December had us running all over, doing all kinds of things! Between work, home, friends, ministry, and family, we were busy!! Here are a few pictures of some of the things that kept us on the go!

These are the little girls that we spent all of last week with, Nancy (5) and Kelsey (8). We had a great time with them, but they kept us on our toes!! We had lots of "glimpses of parenthood" over 8 days and let me tell you, we went home exhausted after it was over!!

The girls and I found this cookie decorating kit one day after school, so we bought it and did it when we got home. It was fun because the cookies were made and iced with designs printed on them, so all we had to do was color them in with edible markers...I do love a craft!!

Kelsey and Nancy and I made a gingerbread house one night while Travis was, but messy. The girls loved it however and when it was done, it was quite cute.

Finn and Barrett and I had lots of fun during this Christmas season...we did lots of Christmas stuff everytime I came over, but they both loved to play in their living room where the tree, the stockings, and all the PRESENTS were! It's nearly impossible to get a picture of them both smiling and looking at the camera, but this was our attempt one day!

This is a picture of Finn and I with his family's new Christmas puppy, "Sid"...isn't he the cutest little thing??? I came home from work that day, convinced that we need another dog! Travis quickly squelched that thought, but he hasn't seen Sid yet...he'll think twice about it I promise you!!

Travis shocked me this year when he announced that he wanted to make Christmas 4 years of marriage I've never heard him say that! So, on a Monday afternoon, when we both had the day off, we watched Elf and made sugar cookies...Ryley kept a VERY CLOSE EYE on those cookies from start to finish!!

Here are some of the finished product...note to self: next time invite other people over to help...decorating 48 cookies takes FOREVER!!

We had a "red and green wacky, tacky Christmas Party" for our junior highers and they did not disappoint!! If there is anything middle school students love, it's dressing up! Anytime we plan anything that involves costumes, they're all over it!! Even our leaders! We had a great time.

My friend Ellie and I, spreading some "tacky" Christmas cheer!!

Merry Christmas from the Armstrongs(in all our "tacky" glory)!! Does anyone want to borrow my beautiful earrings??

Video Fun...

We have been pushing our Airband competition for a few weeks now, trying to get the students excited for our New Year's Eve Blast...each Wednesday night we've had a "performance", starting with Travis and Jason's group, and I've been meaning to put these on here for your viewing pleasure! They have been hilarious...can't wait to see what the students come up with!! Enjoy!

Here is another great staff video of our Program Director, Jed and His wife Sarah, along with two of our other volunteers doing their best performance of Good Charlotte's "I Don't Wanna Be in Love"...I think Sarah is a wonderful wife, don't you??

This fun video, "One Girl Revolution", is courtesy of our Senior girls with their leader, Amanda...nice dancing!


The Hustle and the Bustle....

It's been awhile since I've updated this blog, but I've had literally no time to catch my breath lately, let alone blog! We are "parents" this week and thus incredibly busy! We're staying with 2 girls from our Church, while their parents are on a cruise. They are in Kindergarten and Third Grade, so we are having alot of fun with them and are doing our best to keep them on a schedule and us too! We're also working this week and oh yeah, it's the week before Christmas...could it be any busier?? I am so late this year on my Christmas cards and on shopping, but each day I'm trying to check something off my list and finally I seem to be making some progress! My sister Jennie was also in town this weekend with her boyfriend and her friend, so we got to spend some time with them and on Friday, Stacie and Jesse fly into town also, so we're looking forward to picking them up too. This is the time of year when I feel like I need a housekeeper and an assistant just to keep my sanity!! Wouldn't that be great? Someone to delegate my "stuff" to?? Unfortunately I have no one to delegate too...Travis is busy enough and Ryley just looks at me and wags his tail. So I delegate to the "air" and close my eyes, hoping that when I open them, someone will have heard me and done exactly what I asked. Wishful thinking, I know.

We are definately looking forward to Christmas next week. We're going to Iowa and we both can't wait to stop and be still for awhile. That's what gets me the most right now. These days are flying by and they are jammed packed from beginning to end. I just don't feel like I'm getting any time to "savor the season" and remember what Christmas is all about. That's the trick every year, right? Keeping Jesus before everything else, taking time to be still and dwell with Him. I am trying, sometimes successfully and sometimes unsuccessfully, to take 5 minutes here and there to just quiet my heart and be thankful for what God gave us 2,000 years ago when he sent his son as a little baby. Just the realization of that tends to put everything in perspective and keeps me from getting stressed out over things that aren't important. Try as I might to keep my Christmas from becoming "commercialized", I find it sneaking in. We are so blessed with everything we need, tons of stuff we want and more than we could ever use. So why do I find myself making "wish lists" for even more?? I think that is probably the cry of most hearts who know it's better to give than to receive, but it doesn't come easy and if definately goes against all things cultural. Don't get me wrong, I am not anti-presents at all, but I just want so badly for my heart to be right this year, for my "wants" to be in check. We don't even understand what it means to "need" in America because we have so much in comparison to the rest of the world. But we do know how to give and we do have plenty to give. So, that's been our hope this year. We want to "out-give" before we get, first to the Lord and then to people in our life. The Lord doesn't "need" our money, He's the Creator of the Universe and He can do anything He pleases with or without us, but he "wants" our hearts. I'm not saying we're there yet or that we're doing it perfectly this year, but we're trying to do it better than we've done it before. I want to walk away from Christmas this year, not feeling guilty for all that we spent or all that we're taking home, but instead thankful for the best gift we've ever received, Jesus; thankful for the resources God's entrusted us with and thankful that we've honored Him with it.

Whew....having said that, I'm off to spend some time in the Word, start my day, and finish lots of things on my "to-do" list. Tonight is another busy Wednesday night and we'll be soon caught up in the chaos of kids, Church, schedules, etc. But for now...I'm doing my best to be still, to look out at the beautiful landscape covered in snow, and to praise Him for all that He is.

"For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace..." Isaiah 9:6


Labor of Love

I want to share my new, favorite Christmas song with you. I'm not sure what it is about this song that is resonating with me this year, but I cannot get enough of it. I discovered it on our soundtrack to The Nativity and it makes me cry everytime I hear it. I was looking for the lyrics the other day when I discovered it on You-Tube. The video is a beautiful reminder of what that night might have been like...if you haven't seen the movie yet, you definately should!

I have to admit, I am struggling a little bit with Christmas this year, because of our miscarriage. I have very mixed emotions from day to day. Anyone who knows me, knows that I truly love Christmas and obviously, I love Jesus, but I think I was just hoping it would have been different this year. Have you ever felt that way?
I was hoping to still be pregnant; hoping to be buying gifts for a little one's arrival; hoping to dream with family; hoping to have a little life to look forward to meeting; hoping to be a mommy and Trav a daddy; hoping for something more.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who's ever wished that. To some extent, I think we all do at different times in our lives. Sometimes our hope is well placed and sometimes it is in vain. I think I like this song so much, because it makes me wonder, I bet Mary was hoping that night would have gone differently too. Not the fact that she gave birth to Jesus, but perhaps the circumstances in which she gave birth. Can you imagine the loneliness she must have felt with no Mother around or friends to help her?

One thing I've taken for granted all these years is that I always imgined Joseph was with her during the birth...I recently learned in Church that he probably wasn't. It wasn't customary for men to be around during a birth because it would have been unclean. Also, Luke is very specific to say that "Mary gave birth to a son and SHE wrapped him in cloths and SHE layed him in the manger." Wouldn't Joseph have done that or helped her do that if he was right there? I'm sure he was waiting outside, but I never pictured Mary, all by herself, in labor, with no one to hold her hand or comfort her through it. She must have been scared and drained of strength and yet, she did it. But I bet she wished it could have been different. She probably never would have imagined giving birth to her firstborn, in a stable, all alone.

Recently, I've just been dwelling on Mary and her simple obedience to the Lord. Although it wasn't what she planned and certainly not how she planned, she said "yes" to the Lord and he gave her a blessing that no other human would ever receive...she got to be the Mother of Jesus. I'm struck by that for many reasons. For one thing, she didn't do it for the reward, she did it because the Lord asked her to do it and told her not to be afraid. Secondly, she obeyed despite the obvious shame she must have received from everyone who didn't believe her, including her own family. Thirdly, she wasn't given a bed of roses for her obedience. She was given a dark night, in a smelly stable, on a cold ground, all alone. The birth God promised her, with a son that would be like no other, was not a glamorous event in any stretch of the imagination. And yet, she still obeyed. And because she obeyed, I see the riches of her choice in the One who would come to save me and to save her. She never could have known the Lord would ask that of her, or that it would be so lonely, but He did and when He did, she obeyed. Amazing. Challenging. Humbling. Definately a Labor of Love....

Labor of Love (featuring Jill Phillips)

It was not a silent night
There was blood on the ground
You could hear a woman cry
In the alleyways that night
On the streets of David's town

And the stable was not clean
And the cobblestones were cold
And little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
Had no mother's hand to hold

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love

Noble Joseph at her side
Callused hands and weary eyes
There were no midwives to be found
In the streets of David's town
In the middle of the night

So he held her and he prayed
Shafts of moonlight on his face
But the baby in her womb
He was the maker of the moon
He was the Author of the faith
That could make the mountains move

It was a labor of pain
It was a cold sky above
But for the girl on the ground in the dark
With every beat of her beautiful heart
It was a labor of love
For little Mary full of grace
With the tears upon her face
It was a labor of love


For all you OFFICE fans out there...

For those of you who are in total "office" withdrawl, due to the writer's strike, this video should help. This is a promo video for our new year's eve event that really has nothing to do with new year's's captures the complete randomness that is "the office." It features most of our youth staff, with some funny dialogue between Jason and Travis. It's not the real "office" but it's close and it's filling our deep void for more episodes! Enjoy!

Our Christmas Tree...or Christmas Shrub

We put our Christmas tree up this week and I have to tell you, I'm not loving it. We got a free tree this year from our realtor, which is great, but I keep calling it the Christmas shrub because it is severely lacking in height and it is rather "round" towards the bottom. I don't really like it to tell you the truth. I love our ornaments and the smell of a fresh tree but, had it not been free, it would not have come home to my living room! Oh well, I'm deciding to be thankful and enjoy it anyway but without that star on the top, I don't think I could have stomached it all season!! Also, I've decided that it needs like double the amount of lights we have on it, but neither one of us feel like tackling that again, so there you have it! The Christmas Shrub is here to stay!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

What a beautiful week we've had in Minnesota...we are surrounded by tons of snow and I must say, we are loving it! It seems very fitting with Christmas just around the corner to wake up to a winter wonderland everyday. Ryley is in Heaven...we have huge "mountains" of snow all around us from the plows clearing our parking lot, so he goes crazy when we take him outside, jumping and bounding around in it! In March I promise I'll be singing a different song, but for now I LOVE snow and I LOVE Minnesota!!


Last weekend I had the great privilege to go back to North Carolina and visit my sister Stacie and her husband Jesse, and to see Charlie, Annette, and my first baby...Olivia! What a fun and long overdue visit it was. I wish Travis could have gone with me, and so did Olivia who asked about "Trav" all weekend! We had the best time catching up, playing and just being together. Stacie and Jesse only live about an hour from Raleigh, so they came and stayed with me all weekend at Charlie and Annette's. Olivia is of course, darling...I'm totally biased....and she had us all in stitches the whole time. I am very proud of her and very thankful that we've maintained our relationship from Minnesota. Not only do I miss her very much, but I also miss her parents and it was so fun for us to spend some time together. Annette and I have become great friends and we had so much fun pulling out our scrapbooking stuff and staying up way too late laughing and talking! It was also great to laugh with Stacie and Jesse. We went out to eat at a restaurant Travis and I used to love, which was fun, and Stacie went with me to our old Church on Sunday and to see the house we used to live in! It was a great, whirlwind weekend and I am so glad I could go. Isn't Olivia the cutest little thing you've ever seen?? I'll tell you one funny thing she did all weekend...she's always been into books, I'm sure because we all read to her constantly and still do. Because of that, her vocabulary is quite something for a 4 year old and I found myself stunned at some of the things she would come up with. My favorite however, was the answer she kept giving us whenever someone would ask her a question that demanded a response. When I said, "Olivia, would you like to read this book with me?" she answered with this: "Yes Stephie, that would be ABCDelightful and stupendous!" Can you stand it??

The two of us in her very pink bedroom with a pink elephant I gave her

Can you believe her beautiful, brown hair? She is not the little girl I left!

Annette and I...after 15 shots at least!! We're picky scrapbookers for sure!

We had a tree-trimming party, which Olivia loved, and we did too.

Olivia came into my bedroom every morning to wake me up...I loved it!

Jesse, Stacie and I at Kanki in Raleigh...after a very yummy meal!

Youth Ministry at It's Best...

So, if you're in need of a good laugh, watch this video! We have a huge event coming up in a few weeks for New Year's Eve. We host an all-night party for student ministries at Grace and we're always trying to think of fun, crazy things we can do to make it exciting. It's always a great night, although a long one, but this year we are adding some incredible things that I think the students are going to love! One thing we've added this year is an airband competition. In order to create a buzz and in order to act like teenagers again, Travis and Jason (new High School Pastor), along with 2 of our D-group leaders, formed their own airband and performed for both junior high and senior high on Wednesday was hilarious! Of course Travis loved it and watching him act like a kid reminded me of why he loves student ministry! He's definately cut out for it!! Anyway, enjoy the laugh...I can't wait to see what the students come up with!


Feet to the Fire....

Sorry for the leave of absence I've recently taken from this blog. It's been a crazy and stressful week since Thanksgiving and I've hardly had time to breathe, let alone blog. I'm really getting tired of saying that...I feel like it's the story of my life, or at least this year! Apparently the Lord decided to test me after I wrote a blog about being Thankful for all that He's blessed us with...ironic? I think not. While we were in Iowa, on the day we were to head home, my car refused to start and decided to "die" in the land it came from. We knew this day was coming but we weren't prepared for such horrible timing! Needless to say, my feet have been held to the fire over the last few days as we've had to become a one car family while shopping for something else. Word to the wise, don't shop for a car 3 weeks before Christmas! It's not good on the cash flow! Anyway, add that challenge to an already stressful week and you'll know why I've been absent. I have lots of things to blog about but currently no time to do it! One of these days I'll catch you up with photos and descriptions, but for now I am desperately in need of sleep. Hope December is off to a good start for you! Can't believe Christmas is 3 weeks away??? I'm trying not to think about all the stuff I need to do between now and then...I think it might interfere with my sleep if I dwell on it! Happy December!